Farmington River Report 6/20/18: Going out with a wet fly bang

The last day of spring 2018 was a memorable one for me. The evening wet fly bite was spectacular (where one loses count of fish). I had a Farmington River hat trick (brown, brookie, rainbow). And I landed a porcine high teens rainbow (after it snapped the tip of my cane rod mid-battle).

But let’s focus on the positive. I fished below the permanent TMA from 5:30pm- 9pm. Water was a perfect height and still plenty cold. The bug activity was an 8 out of 10. I had much to work with: midges, a few small (size 18) caddis, lots of size 16 sulphurs and size 14 Light Cahills, and some mongo mayflies (10-12) that were perhaps March Browns or Isos. I fished a three fly team until 7:30pm: Snipe and Yellow size 14 on top, size 16 Magic Fly in the middle, and a winged Light Cahill size 12 on point. All three flies produced. The conditions were perfect for wet flies: bugs, birds working, and a multitude of sloppy, splashy rise forms that went on for hours. I spent most of my time targeting active fish, and often the take came on the first cast. I even caught one dangling my line in the current below me as I walked to the shore to put on my jacket.

Then, disaster. The hit came suddenly and with ferocity. It felt like a decent enough fish, but once I got it in close I could see it was a big rainbow in the upper teens. Fat, spirited, and uncompromising in its belligerence. I didn’t even feel the rod tip snap; suddenly, it seemed, it was just broken. I cursed my luck (as it was). Fortunately, I had brought a second rod stream side: I waded out, re-rigged, and was back at it.

I finished the session throwing dries: Magic Flies, Usuals, and Light Cahills. The trout liked all three. As the gloaming lost its struggle against darkness, I walked back to the truck, unsure how to process the conflicting sensations of delight and regret.

At this size and coloration, most certainly not from the factory. You can’t see it here, but the dorsal side of these fish is dramatically dark. They almost look like chrome steelhead when you’re bringing them in.

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The culprit. The opening of my net is 17″; this little piggy exceeded that. So far, the best trout hit of the year. She took the Pale Watery wingless (Magic Fly), not the Cahill as I previously posted.

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Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Does anybody see what I see?

Followers and readers already know that I tend to fish how, where, and when others don’t — especially when it comes to stripers. I’ve always considered currentseams to be a teaching platform, and to a large extend that is what drives the content of this site. Still, there are times when I feel like a lonely island being battered by the waves of conventional wisdom. So when I get a letter like the one below, it restores me. I’ve edited some of it for brevity, but I think its message is important. Fans of 1776 will get the title reference — and the importance of the answer, “yes.”

“I believe in giving credit where credit is due. I also believe that if someone has helped you, made a part of life more enjoyable, or provided valuable guidance, you should thank them. currentseams has done all three of those things for me.
I moved to Barrington, Rhode Island 7 years ago. I was a sophomore in high school and by then an avid fly fisherman and fly tier of, again, 7 years. I knew little of Rhode Island’s saltwater opportunities then. I was a die-hard trout fisherman, but with the Farmington 2 hours away and no drivers license I thought I should figure out how to have fun in my own backyard.
After multiple run-ins with striped bass eccentrics my father and I were excited. Yet in our haste to get on the water (in reality it was just MY haste) we forgot to really take our time to learn and listen. “Whats the best fly? What’s the best line? Where’s the best spot? Okay, thank you and goodbye!” We wanted to know what everyone else was doing so that’s what we got: intermediate lines, weighted flies, and the strip retrieve. It wasn’t a productive spring, and you can bet our disappointment had us sticking to trout.
With my intermediate line and my Clouser minnows I set out to really figure out this whole striped bass thing. I had done the research. I knew they were around. Now I just had to catch them. This time I had some success. I got a better understanding of tides and where to find fish, but I still fished fast and deep because its all I knew and all I was told. Countless times I lamented my setup as stripers gorged on silver sides right before my eyes. Damned my sinking fly!
I decide to change it up. Time to ditch the internet and get some ink in my nails. Time to sort through my stacks of Eastern Fly Fishing magazine. After some digging I found it, an article titled “South County, RI: By Boots or By Boat”. I don’t have a boat, but I certainly have some boots. This could be good. The article featured beautiful imagery, informative writing, and a picture of a gray-haired man in all black fishing in a trout stream? What?
The caption reads: On a foggy day, the South County salt ponds and connecting estuaries closely resemble the English countryside. It’s no small reason that the original settlers called the area New England. And it’s why native son Kenney Abrames favorites trout and salmon techniques in the salt. 
Not a trout stream, but he was fishing it like one. Who is this Kenney Abrames? A quick internet search bears links to A Perfect Fish and Striper Moon. I scroll down a bit more and there it is, a search result titled “Ken Abrames- currentseams”. I clicked. I read. I explored and I never looked back. It was as if a whole new world had opened up to me. I blazed through currentseams. I quickly bought and read Striper Moon. I bought some floating line. And I put my stores of bucktail and peacock herl to work.
Funny enough, it worked. As soon as I got back from school I began catching striped bass using sparse flies, drifts, and swings. I was having a blast. It felt so satisfying to read something, execute what the writing said to do, and have the desired result.
I (also) realized something very important. This whole time I had been looking to you and Ken for absolutes. But there are no absolutes in fishing. There are only problems and solutions. As I began to re-read Striper Moon and currentseams I started to understand the true message behind both works. That message being this: Objects do not catch fish. People do.
I began to learn that there was no one fly, or one technique, or one rod, or one fly line, or one anything. Every fishing situation is different and it takes a creative angler to solve the riddle of each one. It was with this relization that I stopped looking at Striper Moon and currentseams like they were the Bibles of striped bass on the fly. These works are shared knowledge, not commandments.
Through the help of currentseams I have become a more creative angler. I have embraced the greased line swing, the floating line, and have even created my own fly as a solution to a fishing problem. Thank you for keeping alive the old traditions of striped bass fly fishing and for sharing your insights with the world. Keep up the good work and I cannot wait to read your next post.”
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Thanks for making my day, Sam.
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If you want to catch the fish that not everyone can catch, then don’t fish like everyone else.
TroutFishingStripers

Farmington River Report 6/13/18: Workin’ hard, playin’ hard

On the river for ten hours today and loving every minute of it! I started by guiding Brian from 11am-3pm. Brian had a story that is typical of many of my clients: loves the Farmington, but has had too many encounters with the skunk. He wanted to focus on wets, but I suggested we spend an hour working on his nymphing game, since that is the year-round highest percentage play on this river. Brian has mostly Euro-nymped, but I set him up with a drop shot ring under an indicator. He took to it like he’s been doing it forever. There’ll be no skunk, today, Brian. The first fish was noteworthy because the indicator never went under — it merely twitched. Look for a reason to set the hook on every drift, and like that Brian was on the board.

It was a cool, wet day, and there was precious little bug activity. The water is still unusually cold, with 48 degrees at the bottom end of the permanent TMA, which was running at 330cfs. Nonetheless, we managed a mix of browns and rainbows by (you’ve heard this if you’ve taken my class) moving around and covering water. Nice work, Brian.

Every guide loves the sight of a bent rod and a tight line. Brian did a great job with his hook sets today.

DCIM100GOPROG0015239.

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Thank you for playing. They liked the bottom nymph, a size 14 Frenchie variant.

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Now it was my turn to play. I grabbed a sandwich and headed off to a snotty run to swing wets under a leaden sky. The cold from the river was a stark contrast to the warm and humid air (my lower legs and feet were uncomfortably cold by the time I finished.) By this time (4pm) there was a slight uptick in bug activity. Whack! My second cast produced a gorgeous wild brown.

They don’t make ’em like this in the factory. Absolutely flawless fins.

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Any pre-hatch period is my favorite time to swing wets, and I moved down to a more languid section of water. Sure enough, as the clock moved toward 5pm, there was an uptick in bug activity, mostly Light Cahills (Vitreus) 12-14 and caddis 14-16. The fish were rising a little more regularly now. I was fishing a three fly team of a Squirrel and Ginger on top, a Light Cahill winged in the middle and a Hackled March Brown on point. My strategy was to target active risers, and I caught a bunch of trout on all three flies.

There comes a time during every hatch when the subsurface wet becomes ineffective, and today it was 7pm. I switched over to dries, and had a blast fooling trout on the surface. I fished Magic Flies and Usuals, 14-16, and had a good couple dozen takes — but only about half of them stuck. I was going to leave at 8pm, but I remembered how fiercely I admonish those who depart from the river before the magic hour in June and July, so I stuck around until 9pm. The last half hour, the river was simmering with rise forms. I switched over to classic Light Cahill dries, 12-14, and ended the session with a healthy brown who was just showing the beginnings of a kype.

The best part? There was no one there except for me, the trout, and the bugs.

Our Lady of the Blessed Pink Band. First Farmy trout of the year on a dry. 

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Cape Crusaders

Got back yesterday from a 36-hour Cape Cod stripers on the fly trip. I met a friend from England who fishes out there several weeks this time of year, and a couple other guys I knew from the SOL forum.  Tuesday night we fished an outflow. I took a 20″ bass on my first cast, and I supposed that it was going to be one of those lose-track-of-the-count-after-a-dozen nights. Or not. That was my only striper of the evening.

Wednesday AM we fished the mouth of an estuary. I could sense almost right away that it wasn’t going to happen, and it didn’t. The most fun I had that morning was casting Mike’s (the Englishman who is also a rod maker) cannon of a two-hander. (Good Lord, I need one of those for windy days.) Or maybe it was breakfast. It was pretty tasty. I think I’ll go with breakfast. We headed for a bay to catch the last of outgoing, but with the wind in my face, a tired body, and the only bass around being in the stocked trout size range, I decided to save my chips for later.

Good call. The Wednesday dusk and night bite was off-the-charts good for numbers (not so much for size) but you take what the striper gods give you and offer thanks. Mike and I started by working a beach, and we ran into a good old-fashioned classic blitz, with terns dive bombing the bait and a striper on just about every cast-and-strip. We were fishing about 25 feet off the beach, walking down current, casting parallel to the shore. This went on until dark, and we fairly giggled about it on our walk over to where Chris and Chuck were fishing.

I loved this second spot: an outflow with stripers holding on station, unwilling to chase, feeding on something small. I was feeling lazy, but after Chris mentioned the deer hair grass shrimp he’d seen in my box the night before, I realized that the standard baitfish fly was going to be nothing but casting practice. While bass popped around me, some within a rod length away, I tied up a three fly dropper team with the shrimp on top, a 1.5″ saltwater Hornburg, and a Gurgler on point to suspend the rig. I generally avoid the phrase “that was the ticket,” but I beg to report that that was, indeed, the ticket. For the next hour, the skunk turned into a touch or multiple touches on just about every cast. The fish were small and hard to hook, and with the action winding down, I decided to end on a high note after I took a double.

 

Mike demonstrates the proper technique for serving tea in the field, taken directly from the pages of the British Commando manual. Tea and milk on the beach after a night’s fishing. How civilized! Yes, the weather was October cold.

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Chris with the best fish of our 36 hours, taken in an outflow on a Big Eelie. A fine demo of proper catch-and-release.

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Another back country brookie adventure

The cathedral was built at the end of the last ice age. As the glacier receded, it carved out the path of the stream and dotted its edges with granite boulders. Tens of thousands of years later, I came to worship at its altar.

In one of the Beatles’ Christmas records, John Lennon waxes romantic about the Elizabethan high wall. Here’s to the New England low wall. What was once farmland is now dense woods, and every once in a while you stumble across one of these gems, as if it were part of some random design plan.

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I’ve been fishing this stream for years, and in late May you can always count on a good hatch of yellow sallies. I spent 15 minutes sitting beside a pool watching the char rise in earnest to both midges and stoneflies.

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I started with a dry (Improved Sofa Pillow variant)/nymph (Frenchie variant) dropper and had interest in both. I switched out the nymph for a North Country spider, the Partridge and Orange, to which the answer was a resounding yes. White micro bugger, ICU Sculpin, Squirrel and Herl — they liked them all. Pricked dozens, landed a few less, and spent most of the morning giggling about it.

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I love how the brookies change their colors to match their environment. This guy came from a shallow, well-lit run with a light stone bottom…

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…while his cousin came from the depths of a plunge pool that may only see sunlight for a few days each year.

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A shout out to Matt Supinski

One of my favorite parts of my fishing/writing job is that I get to talk to people who know way more than me. Last week I had the chance to talk to Matt Supinski, author of Steelhead Dreams. The purpose of the interview was to get support quotes for an upcoming steelhead piece for Field & Stream (which should be out late this year). Many thanks to Matt for sharing his time and insights. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a deadline approaching rapidly from the east. To the keyboard I go!

We all want to catch more steelhead, and hopefully you’ll find some useful tidbits when the piece comes out.

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Striper report: It’s grass shrimp time, baby

My striper fishing cycle goes through an almost ritualistic pattern, following bass and bait to certain spots at certain times of the year. May and June are always a good time to target stripers feeding on tiny grass shrimp in the many estuaries along the Connecticut shoreline. These diminutive crustaceans swarm to mate, and the stripers know that they’re there, literally queuing up to feed on them. Throw in some clam worms and smaller baitfish like mummichaugs and you’re got a veritable saline smorgasbord.

I’ve been trying to expand my menu of usual places, so last night I ventured out to try two new locations. Both had grass shrimp and stripers. The fish weren’t very big — 16″-20″ — but they weren’t easy to catch, and I like a good presentation puzzle. Wouldn’t you know that I caught my first one when I wasn’t paying attention. My rod was tucked under my arm, flies dangling in the water below me while I was trying to figure out a murderous eddy, when WHACK! Once I had the drifts calculated, the takes began in earnest.

I didn’t shoot many photos — we all know what a school bass looks like — but this is the sweet silly who took the fly on the dangle. My apologies for the focal challenges.

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Droppers give you a strategic advantage when there is a multitude of tiny bait in the water. Last night’s rig: a micro Gurgler, Simpson’s Hairwing Shrimp, and an Orange Ruthless clam worm. For perspective, the Ruthless is 2″ long. The bass liked all three flies, the clam worm in particular.

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